Illustration: Training in Self-Defense by Israel Defense Forces [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr
Eliminate the diaspora or the diaspora will surely eliminate you.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Tisha B'av (1937)
These are the words of famed Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Is it time to take these words seriously? Is it time to return home to the Holy Land before even more Jews are victimized in violent attacks and abuse?
Jabotinsky wrote these words in 1937, even before Kristallnacht and the horrors that came after. Many Jews did not listen to Jabotinsky’s warning, and tragically they are now at the bottom of mass graves. We should make it our duty to remember these words, especially after the recent anti-Semitic attacks in New York and New Jersey.
A logical first reaction to any form of anti-Semitism would be that making aliyah to Israel is the answer. But what if aliyah isn’t an option? What if you are stuck outside the Promised Land, what do you do then? The only answer seems to be for Jews to protect themselves, as per the original mission of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) before it became implicated in murder and other problematic activity.
Hatred against Jews has always been a part of world history and is unfortunately expected, but it does not have to be violent. In its prime, the JDL would patrol neighborhoods where anti-Semitic crimes were expected. Revamping the JDL would slow down, if not stop, the street crimes and assaults currently plaguing Jews.
Recently Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum, a bestselling author, wrote an article about this entitled “Is it time to bring back the JDL?" She spoke about her days in the JDL when they would protect elderly defenseless Jews and take part in protests for Jews trapped in the Soviet Union. Mandelbaum ended by saying the reason for JDL’s success was its founder Rabbi Meir Kahane hy”d, and that the missing “vital ingredient” for a properly restored JDL is Rabbi Kahane.
I completely agree with her on this; Rabbi Kahane was a special person who had tremendous talents that would be very hard to replicate. However, there are Zionist leaders in every generation who have the potential to be great — from Jabotinsky to Avraham Stern to Menachem Begin to Rabbi Kahane. It is inevitable that a leader will step up and stand up to the anti-Semites. The question is who will be the leaders that they have to work with, and where will they come from?
One of the reasons why a young new leader has not stepped up and attempted to lead American Jews in physically protecting themselves is because Jews are simply not being trained to lead and fight.
A good example of an organization that once trained leaders is the Jewish Legion from World War I. From its ranks emerged such great Zionist leaders as Levi Eshkol, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Jews today need another organization that can build leadership.
The only way to rebuild the JDL is by organizing self-defense classes and teaching the leadership skills that Jewish teens need. “The struggle for the souls of our youth is the greatest problem,” wrote Rabbi Kahane. We must not forget about our youth; we can not continue to ignore them. Paying more attention to the youth may be the best way to fight recent acts of Jew hatred.
What can a high school-aged kid like myself do? One of the ways we can pull our weight is by reminding those older than us that the JDL is still needed, and that we should not stay silent waiting to be slaughtered like sheep.
It is not enough to just condemn the haters — we need to take action. We need to protest, and we can not just use our words when our enemies use weapons. We must train in self-defense, now.